Representatives of one of Japan’s leading importers of U.S. beef and pork recently visited American packing plants, feedlots, retail outlets and restaurants to deepen their understanding of the U.S. red meat industry. With funding from the Beef Checkoff Program and the National Pork Board, USMEF hosted the team of four buyers and one meat director from the AEON Group, a corporation that operates national and regional supermarkets and foodservice outlets across Japan.
The AEON delegation visited the JBS beef plant in Greeley, Colorado, the National Beef plant in Liberal, Kansas, and the Seaboard pork plant in Guymon, Oklahoma.
At JBS, team members observed the production line for U.S. beef chuck eye roll and peeled tongue. Their stop at National Beef was a chance to see new, developing U.S. beef products and for a tour of the Heritage Beef feedlot in Sublette, Kansas. A presentation at Seaboard highlighted the plant’s integrated production system – from breeding to feeding to processing. The team was also given background on Seaboard pork cuts that AEON currently purchases, such as U.S. pork loin, belly and tenderloin.
“The plant tours were tremendously effective and the people from AEON learned a lot about American beef and pork and how it is prepared for export,” said Satoshi Kato, USMEF marketing director in Japan. “We continually work with large customers of U.S. red meat like AEON to enhance their loyalty and ultimately increase sales in the Japanese market. Those who sell food in Japan, as well as Japanese consumers, are very interested in where the meat comes from, so this was an opportunity to show one of Asia’s largest retail companies how the U.S. industry works.”
The visit was also beneficial for USMEF, which learned more about AEON’s sales strategy and its goals for selling more U.S. beef and pork on a stop at USMEF headquarters in Denver. The team told USMEF staff that it sold 2,500 metric tons (mt) of U.S. beef in 2017, triple the amount sold three years earlier.
“U.S. beef thick cut steak sells very well, they told us,” said Kato, who added that AEON sold 18,390 mt of U.S. pork in 2017, an increase of 40 percent from 2010. “The sales of loin, butt, tenderloin and back rib are remarkable.”
Kato, who led the team on its U.S. visit, said AEON is expanding its beef yakiniku-seasoned items and further shifting from Australian to U.S. beef. There are also big plans for other items.
“The sales of beef tongue have done very well, and the company is aiming to increase tongue sales by 30 percent this year,” said Kato. “It is also strengthening efforts to sell U.S. pork CT butt as a barbecue centerpiece and offering customers a host of new menu suggestions.”
In Denver, the team was shown a variety of retail meat displays during stops at King Soopers, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s supermarkets. A visit to Marczyk Fine Foods provided a look at a specialty meat retailer.